Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) has joined a bipartisan group of nine colleagues proposing a pilot program that would expedite the deportation of migrants who make invalid asylum claims.
The senators outlined the Operation Safe Return program, which would allow the deportation of migrants within 15 days if their asylum claims are not credible, in a letter sent to acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan on Wednesday.
“We write to urge you to use authorities in use as of June 30, 2019, to implement Operation Safe Return, a pilot program to rapidly, accurately, and fairly determine those families who have crossed the southern border that clearly do not have a valid legal claim and safely return them to their home countries,” the senators wrote. “Through this program, we expect that we can meet our commitments to humanitarian protections while ensuring proper efficiency, timeliness, order, and fairness in the credible fear screening process.”
Sinema and Republican senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin led the effort to develop the program in response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis that has arisen at border-detention facilities in recent months due to overcrowding.
The freshman Arizona Democrat began devising the program after realizing that the Trump administration’s proposed solutions, which involve rewriting asylum laws and doing away with the Flores consent decree, were inadequate, according to the Arizona Republic.
“This pilot program would apply to families who aren’t claiming ‘credible fear,’ which of course is the first threshold in seeking asylum,” she said. “If someone says ‘I left my country because I can’t make a living,’ [or] ‘it’s hard to take care of my family’ — that’s what we call an economic migrant.”
“I just felt those weren’t the right answers,” Sinema added. “We wanted to solve the problem. We wanted to protect the asylum process for valid applicants . . . and we want to respect the Flores decision,” which limits to just 20 days the length of time that a migrant minor can be held in federal custody.
Under the current system, asylum-seekers typically wait months or even years for their hearing, which as many as 90 percent of them fail to appear for, according to a recent pilot program that tracked asylum-seekers. Under Sinema’s proposal, migrants would receive an expedited hearing and would be immediately deported if they failed to meet the “credible fear” standard established under U.S. immigration law.
Sinema and Johnson are joined by Republican senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso of Wyoming, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Rob Portman of Ohio, and John Cornyn of Texas, as well as Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Doug Jones of Alabama. The group plans to meet with McAleenan in the coming weeks to explain the program in further detail.